7 Times The MTV Video Music Awards Paid Moving Tribute To Artists We Lost

From Kurt Cobain to Amy Winehouse.

With the MTV Video Music Awards coming up, you might hear a lot of people reminiscing about the most iconic moments in the show's history — from show-stopping outfits to controversial acceptance speeches. The VMAs are known for being wild and wacky, but today we'd like to take a look at the ceremony's more serious side.


The music world has had to say farewell to a number of talented and beloved artists since the VMAs first premiered 34 years ago. In many cases, the show has devoted time during the broadcast to pay tribute to these artists and remember the legacies they left behind. From heartwarming performances to heartfelt speeches, the moments listed below were some of the most moving we've seen.

1. Kurt Cobain

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain died by suicide in April of 1994. Later that year, the band's bassist Krist Novoselic took the stage at the VMAs to introduce a video montage paying tribute to the late rocker. "This last April, we all lost a good friend, and we'd like for you all to watch this presentation and remember the life of Kurt Cobain," Novoselic told the crowd. The montage included footage from several live performances.

2. Joey Ramone

Joey Ramone, of the iconic punk band The Ramones, passed away in 2001. During the VMAs that year, U2 frontman Bono took the opportunity to pay tribute to the band while accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. 

"New York City has given us a lot of things, but the best thing it ever gave us was a punk rock group called The Ramones, without whom a lot of people would never have gotten started. Certainly us," Bono shared. He then invited the remaining Ramones on stage.

3. Aaliyah

R&B singer Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash in August of 2001. Less than a month later, several artists took the stage at the VMAs to speak about what she meant to them. Janet Jackson read from a letter written by a fan, which stated, "We haven't lost anyone. We've only gained an angel."

Missy Elliott, Timbaland, and Ginuwine then shared their own words of tribute, with Ginuwine calling Aaliyah "one in a million," a reference to her second album. Timbaland called her "my little sister, my music inspiration." Elliott encouraged those watching "to appreciate each other while we're here on earth."

Aaliyah's brother Rashad also shared a few words, thanking friends and fans for their support. The tribute ended with a clip of the singer speaking about how much she loved performing.

4. Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes

After Lisa Lopes was killed in a car accident in April of 2002, her group mates in TLC (Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas) appeared at the Video Music Awards to remember her. The two were visibly emotional, as Watkins told the crowd, "I want to start off by saying God is good. That's the only reason we're able to stand here tonight."

"This is so hard, because it's such a reality check, because it's only two of us up here. And she's so missed," Thomas said, adding, "We know that Lisa's smiling, and we just hope that she's proud of us right now."

Carson Daly also announced the formation of the Lisa Lopes AIDS Scholarship, a $25,000 grant sponsored by MTV for "a young person committed to the fight against AIDS."

5. Michael Jackson

King of Pop Michael Jackson died in June of 2009. At the VMAs later that year, Madonna delivered a speech paying tribute to the singer. "There is no question that Michael Jackson was one of the greatest talents the world has ever known," she said, later adding, "There will never be anyone like him again."

Janet Jackson also took the stage for a tribute performance to her brother, which began with several dancers performing against the backdrop of Michael's music videos. Janet emerged to perform "Scream," which she recorded with her brother. She performed synchronized dance moves with his image on the screen. 

6. Amy Winehouse

Following singer Amy Winehouse's death in 2011, Bruno Mars took the stage at the VMAs to perform "Valerie" in her honor. The song, originally performed by The Zutons, was famously covered by Winehouse and Mark Ronson in 2007. Mars' performance, backed by pop art images of Winehouse, was an energetic celebration of her talent.

Russell Brand and Tony Bennett also paid tribute to Winehouse during the ceremony, with Brand calling her "a genius" and Bennett saying that the late singer, with whom he recorded, "was a true jazz artist in the traditions of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday."

7. Chester Bennington & Chris Cornell

Last year, Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars gave a speech remembering Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, friends who both died by suicide within weeks of each other. Leto, who had toured with both artists, sent a message to anyone who may be struggling.

"If there is anyone out there who is watching this tonight who feels like there is no hope, hear me now. You are not alone," he said, adding, "The absolute biggest breakthroughs in life lie just beyond the darkest days."

He then introduced a clip of Linkin Park performing at the 2010 VMAs, which was unfortunately cut short by a commercial break. Still, Leto's words made for a powerful tribute.


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.